When we plan our topics, our Project Based Learning (PBL) topics, we have a long list of research skills that children need to be taught in order that they are able to find, synthesise, critique, apply information. The skills learning is incremental as they move through the school. Each subsequent year building on the research skills from the year before.
One of the skills that teachers like to identify as needing to be taught is questioning. I have a strong argument against the need to teach a child how to ask a question. Young children have such vivid imaginations and they are full of curiosity. They ask millions of questions and the majority of the questions start with ‘why?’. They don’t need to be taught how to ask a question. I read somewhere that children can ask up to 75 questions a day.
As children get older, they still ask lots of questions. The questions now start with ‘who or when or where or what’. Their questioning has evolved with age.
Our role at school is to not teach children how to ask a question, but to model the way we craft questions to get the information we are looking for and how this might differ from the way we craft questions to get others to give their thoughts and opinions.
If your child asks you a relatively simplistic question, restate it modelling a fuller or deeper version of the question they have asked. It is through this modelling that they will learn the value of appropriate questioning to find out what they want to know.
Don’t you love it when your child asks you a curly question? Why is the sky blue? Why do big people / adults stop growing? Then there was the question my 3 year old asked a heavily tattooed man sunbathing on the beach… ”Why have you got stamps (tattoos) on your body?”
So how do we answer these curly questions? Do you change the subject? This is not the ideal approach says psychologist Clare Rowe, who explains that avoiding the topic altogether is not much different from lying to them. She also says to not give them wrong information, as it will only confuse them later.
If you know the answer, then explain it in an age appropriate way, avoid long winded explanations. You may give way more information than is needed so check where the question is coming from before launching into a long explanation.
If you don’t know the answer, then that might be a perfect opportunity to model how to find something out and how to search through the millions of pieces of information that Google spits out.
If it is one of those curly questions that can’t be factually answered, why not throw it back at them? An example – when I was asked by my daughter how she could get to Care Bear land, I said that I wasn’t sure, but how did she think she could get there? I then listened to her long winded theory of how she could get there!
Sometimes though, the best answer for your questioning child is, “…..because I said so!”